On August 31, United States president Barack Obama became the first President to visit America’s Arctic. The president’s trip to Alaska is primarily aimed at combating the impacts of climate change in the region. However, he also announced the new investments to enhance safety and security in the Arctic. Meanwhile, five Chinese navy ships have curiously appeared in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska while Mr Obama is visiting the region.
Included among these investments is the accelerated acquisition of new Coast Guard icebreakers. In the fact sheet released about the acquirement, it was noted that Russia has forty icebreakers and another eleven planned or under construction in the Arctic. United States, on the other hand, has only three icebreakers, all under the command of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The fact sheet states that the Obama administration will propose to accelerate acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker to 2020 from 2022. “These heavy icebreakers will ensure that the United States can meet our national interests, protect and manage our natural resources, and strengthen our international, state, local, and tribal relationships,” the fact sheet further states.
Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department, Mark Toner, said the government has concerns about how Russian military is conducting itself in the Arctic. He stressed that the Arctic Council members are already discussing the issue.
“I would say we’re – we have concerns about how militaries conduct themselves in the Arctic, but that’s for all of the Arctic Council members to discuss,” Toner told press in a press briefing.
Toner also stressed that Russia, as a member of the Arctic Council, have territorial claims based on legal parameters. “They’ve – they’re going about it through the Law of the Sea Treaty and the conventions within that treaty. So they’re going through the right process to address those claims, just like other countries within the Arctic Council also have claims,” Toner further explained.
Meanwhile, five Chinese navy ships have mysteriously begun its operations in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska just in time when Mr Obama is visiting the region, the Wall Street Journal has learned. According to an anonymous defense source, the operation of the Chinese vessels would “be a first in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands.”
According to the report from WSJ, Pentagon officials have acknowledged that the sudden operation of the Chinese ships has a “curious timing.” “It’s difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region.It’s different,” Josh Earnest told WSJ, adding that they have “variety of opinions” about the issue.
Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser on Asia for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, downplayed the controversy sparked by the sighting of the Chinese vessels. “We better get used to it. The Chinese navy is taking on more and more of an expeditionary character… the Chinese navy is going global.”